The Ghost Hunter** (Old Red Lion Theatre, 3 May 2013)

Posted: May 7, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

The City of York is described in this play as built on a graveyard above another graveyard and we are told that, whilst it was once famed for trains and chocolate, it is now known chiefly for its ghosts. The evening begins with the audience being ushered into a room above a pub where we encounter Mr Richard Baraclough sitting next to a small table, ready to sup a pint of Abbot’s ale. He appears a sombre figure, dressed in a black cloak and top hat, sporting a moustache and bushy sideburns. He admits to being a failed actor and an alcoholic and it transpires that he is a ghost hunter or, to be more precise, a tour guide showing visitors around locations in York where ghosts have reportedly been sighted. What we hear in this one hour monologue is eerie, but the creepiness is diluted by tongue-in-cheek scepticism. As a result, the tales Barraclough tells are all mildly amusing, sometimes gruesome but seldom particularly frightening. He tantalises us with early mentions of the ghost of George Pimm, a 19th Century ogre, before revealing the full story which forms his centrepiece. The structure of the monologue relies heavily upon repeatedly overturning expectations, so that a scary tale comes to a humorous end and a humorous tale turns scary. This device works in the beginning but it becomes much too obvious as the evening progresses. This production comes from Theatre of the Damned whose mission is to explore the “neglected world of the Theatre du Grand Guignol”. Playing Barraclough, Tom Richards makes piercing eye contact with every member of the audience individually and he fits the part well (this is not a backhanded compliment as he is clearly not a failed actor and probably not an alcoholic). However, the writer has miscalculated by putting his words into the mouth of a character who is, like most of us, dubious about the supernatural, as we did not come just to hear our views confirmed; what we really wanted was to be scared witless. The management of the Old Red Lion could also have made a big mistake by starting performance at 7.30 and thereby missing a trick to sell both more tickets and more beer. A 9.30 start would have allowed us to enjoy a couple of hours of merriment in the bar before wandering upstairs clutching our full glasses of Abbot’s to join Mr Barraclough and listen enthralled to his tales. Surely this is the context in which this monologue was meant to be performed. Unfortunately, making a sober judgement with things as they are, this does not add up to much of a night out at the theatre.

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